Fiction competed with fact on Thursday as the anthrax threat consumed the media and political worlds, leading to misleading reports about who was suffering from the dangerous disease.
Also on Thursday, “ABC World News Tonight’s” Washington-based weekend anchor Carole Simpson, who was suspended after speaking out of turn about an anthrax investigation, apologized.
Simpson wasn’t the only one correcting misperceptions. The day began with reports that a Capitol Hill journalist had been admitted to a Washington, D.C. hospital, presenting flu-like symptoms and possibly suffering from inhalation anthrax. The unidentified journalist had apparently been the vicinity of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office when an anthrax-laced letter addressed to the politico was opened on Oct. 15.
By late afternoon, however, public health officials presented no evidence that the journalist had inhalation anthrax, leading news orgs to drop the item.
Meanwhile, confusion erupted in New York City when Gotham Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that another NBC News staffer had contracted cutaneous anthrax after handling a letter sent to “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw.
NBC prexy and chief operating officer Andrew Lack quickly set the record straight, telling staffers, “This is old news.”
As for Simpson’s apology, she said “On October 16 at a luncheon, I shared some information with the audience that I believed to be accurate about a suspicious letter that had been received at our Washington bureau. It turned out that the information about the postmark of that letter was incorrect and I regret the mistake.”
Simpson was referring to a press luncheon in New York the day after ABC News announced that a producer’s baby had been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. At the International Women’s Media Foundation event, Simpson said that her colleague “This Week” co-host Cokie Roberts had received a suspicious letter postmarked Trenton, NJ., the suspected site of anthrax-laced letters sent to other media orgs and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
ABC had, in fact, been investigating a suspicious letter sent to its Washington bureau, but it did not originate from Trenton and turned out to be harmless.
Simpson also divulged identifying information about the baby that that the infant’s mother had intended to keep out of the media.
Simpson’s 2-week paid suspension will end on Nov. 4. Autor: Paula Bernstein And Pamela Mcclintock